A Musical Plea for Kindness

July 24, 2020, 12:20 am

I have been trying to sleep since 11 pm but to no avail.

I keep hearing bits and pieces of a song floating in my head.

Melody and words.

“Sing…gently…together.”

Yes, I am one of the 17,572 singers from 129 countries who participated in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6. The video recording of Sing Gently was virtually premiered last Sunday. Did you see it? The sheer magnitude of attempting such a feat is mind boggling.

But the finished product was so worth the effort! Listening to the sound of 17,572 singers is powerful, stunning, beautiful, moving, other-worldly.

Mr. Whitacre composed this song not long after COVID-19 halted our lives as we knew it.  It speaks a message we need these days.  Here are the lyrics:

MAY WE SING TOGETHER, ALWAYS, MAY OUR VOICE BE SOFT, MAY OUR SINGING BE MUSIC FOR OTHERS, AND MAY IT KEEP OTHERS ALOFT.

SING GENTLY, ALWAYS, SING GENTLY AS ONE.

MAY WE STAND TOGETHER, ALWAYS, MAY OUR VOICE BE STRONG, MAY WE HEAR THE SINGING, ALWAYS, AND MAY WE ALWAYS SING ALONG.

SING GENTLY, ALWAYS, SING GENTLY AS ONE.

And here is a link to the video:

https://youtu.be/InULYfJHKI0

Tonight as I lay trying to sleep, I also visualized the scene in the video towards the end of the song where all the singer’s videos, separate at first, move towards each other. They look like they are forming continents, and eventually come together “as one”. You see that completed concept in the artwork of my featured image.

I imagined this song hovering over the earth, shimmering in its beauty; the rushing sound of many voices singing softly and gently, covering the earth as a prayer.

We need this healing vision today.  We need these inspiring words of hope. The reality of life in our country at this time is anything but “soft” and united “as one.”

Voices are loud, confusing, strident, tearing us apart. Actions are at times hurtful, violent, even murderous.

We need reminders that we are all part of each other – we are all part of the human race. We all need kindness and consideration, in order that we may all flourish.

Can we make music “for others?” Can we help “keep others aloft?”

As we “sing gently”, what would it take to “stand together always”, inviting others to “sing along?”

Will we pause the loud, argumentative streams of words to listen to this soft and gentle plea?  And if we do, will we take it to heart?

Postscript: After I wrote this blog, I searched for an appropriate image to illustrate it.  I found something, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.  The next day, the image you see was posted on the Virtual Choir 6 facebook group – it is perfect!  Thank you so much for sharing it Alana!

Artwork credit: Alana Keener, fellow Virtual Choir 6 singer

In Times Like These, Lament

Lament: Prayer for when our spiritual journey with God is at a wall.

Today, we, along with most of humanity, are experiencing the unprecedented in our lifetime world-wide pandemic of COVID-19. There is confusion, fear, anxiety, loss of many kinds, sickness, sorrow, death and grief all around. We, the people of God have questions.  If we are honest, the big question is, “Where are you God, in all of this?”

What we as Christians are experiencing is described as “The Wall”; a stage in the life of faith described in the book “The Critical Journey”, by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich.

“The Wall” is often precipitated by a life or faith crisis that turns our world upside down and for the first time, our faith doesn’t seem to work. Our experience of life and our beliefs aren’t matching up. We have more questions than answers. Sometimes this stage is entered into gradually and at some point we realize that God seems far away and whatever we’ve been doing up to that point to connect with God isn’t working. Sometimes this experience happens suddenly.  The experience of “The Wall” often leads to uncertainty about God, everything we thought we knew about the life of faith, shame, fear, and an urge to give up. It can be a dark and lonely time.

Historic Christian writer St. John of the Cross (1542-1592), a Catholic Christian monk who spent his life in the service of Catholic Reform, described this experience of God’s absence as “The Dark Night of the Soul”.

Contemporary writer Lee Beach, in his article “A Spirituality of Exile: Responding to God’s Absence”, describes the sense of God’s absence as feeling like being in a spiritual exile.

A few Biblical individuals who experienced a deep sense of loss and seeming absence of God’s presence are Job, Naomi, and the Israelites when in Babylonian exile.

What we see in the life of the Biblical examples mentioned, as well as from St. John of the Cross, is that these individuals responded to God in a variety of ways.

Job grieved, and lamented to his friends, who provided poor counsel. Eventually Job approached God with his questions.  God listened (described through several chapters) and then responded to Job. (Book of Job)

Naomi and her family moved away from the land of Israel to care for their physical needs when famine struck God’s people in “the promised land.” After some years went by, which included many severe losses for Namoi, Naomi’s return to the land of Israel represents her return to God, even as she recognizes her bitterness  (“Call me Mara”). Eventually she recognizes God’s care for her through Ruth and Boaz, and her joy is restored. (Book of Ruth)

The Israelites cried out to God in lament, mourning their losses, asking for God’s help many times throughout their journey out of Egypt, as well as when they were exiled from their country many years later. At times they even blamed God for turning against them and allowing them to be overcome and taken into captivity. While in captivity in Babylon, they kept calling out to God to save them. 70 years later, God restored their land to them. (Lamentations, Psalms 44, 74, 89, 89, 102, 106, 137).

Most of these suffering people moved towards God in a new way, bringing their questions, confusion and pain to God. While they felt abandoned by God, they didn’t give up on God. In fact, their lament shows their determination to speak with God about their situation, question God about God’s action or lack thereof in regards to their plight.

The language of lament as found in scripture, offers a paradigm for engaging with God in the midst of our experience of God’s seeming absence. This language of lament is one of struggle, doubt, frustration with God, and wrestling with where God is in the midst of painful experiences.

There are a couple of movements in the lament prayers of the Israelites as described by Beach that can help us as we approach God in our times of spiritual exile, Dark Night of the Soul, or Wall experience:

  • An honest description of the problem.
  • A request for God to act on our behalf and remedy the problem.
  • Confession of Trust. Remembering what God has done in the past and confessing trust in God for the present.
  • Vow of Praise. Praising God in anticipation of God’s new redemption action in the future.

Theological Reflection is at the heart of lament.  When we sense God’s absence it can feel like an exilic experience. We no longer feel at home with God as our normal life experience has changed. We feel that we are “cast into a foreign land.”

Prayer and Reflection:

In times like these, I invite you to find a scripture of lament below to meditate on, perhaps daily, and then write your own prayers of lament as described above, following the example of Job, Naomi, the Israelites in exile, St. John of the Cross and countless Christians down through the ages, by continuing to call out to God. He is a God who is far away yet also very near. (Jeremiah 23:23)

Some scriptures of lament: Psalm 5-7, 10, 11 – 13, 17, 22, 28, 56, 60-64, 69-70, 74, 77, 90, 102, 120-121, 130, 140-143, Book of Lamentations

Photo credit: Charlotte Hedman, https://charhedman.wixsite.com/photography

Broken-hearted Joy

“Our hearts ache, but we have joy.”

How can people say they are experiencing joy when their hearts are breaking? These are two opposing emotions and seemingly impossible to coincide together in one person at the same time.

This phrase “Our hearts ache, but we have joy” comes from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians 6:10, couched in his list of hardships endured by himself and his co-workers on their various missionary travels. It appears that the Christians in Corinth are having some struggles with holding to their faith in Christ because of a particular man among them and they are now mistrusting and doubting Paul and his teaching. Paul is urging them to continue to trust God and to trust himself as well. We learn this from phrases Paul interjects throughout this 2nd letter to the Corinthians, such as

“it is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ” (1:21)
“the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me” (2:5)
“don’t team up with those who are unbelievers” (6:14)
“come back to God(5:20)

Paul longs for reconciliation, often expressing his love for them as in

“we want to work together with you” (1:24)
“I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you” (2:4)
“you are in our hearts” (7:3)
“There is no lack of love on our part but you have withheld your love from us. I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!”(6:12)

Paul also explains himself and defends his authority, particularly in chapter 10, but “with the gentleness and kindness of Christ” (10:1).

“We are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the Word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us” (2:17)

Among other things, Paul also corrects and encourages the Corinthians to “strengthen (them), not tear (them) down.” (13:5)

“Forgive and comfort” this person (who caused the problems) so he won’t be “overcome by discouragement…reaffirm your love for him”
“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine” (13:5)

How can Paul have joy in the midst of this obviously complicated and difficult relational challenge among people he has brought to faith? He has labored, suffered and loved much. Now they are breaking his heart.

“Because of our great trust in God through Christ”, Paul reveals, he and his co-workers are confident that the ministry among the Corinthians was enabled by the Holy Spirit because it is the Spirit who “gives life.” (3:16)

Paul is looking beyond the situation to his trust in God through what Christ has done. He has experienced personally the power of the Holy Spirit in his own life and witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit giving “life” to many others through his ministry, particularly to these beloved believers in Corinth. Paul repeatedly points back to God’s work in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is where his hope is.

Reflection:
Dear friend, is your heart aching? I encourage you to reflect with God on 2 Corinthians Chapter 4. Paul attests to the power we have from God in spite of all our troubles. He describes it as a “light shining in our hearts” even though we often feel like “fragile clay jars” (4:7). Paul definitely was not ignoring the problems, but he wasn’t letting them rob him of his joy and confidence in God. May you find that true for yourself as well.

I end with Paul’s last words in this 2nd letter to the Corinthian believers,
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:14)